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Bostock v. Clayton County: Meet the Plaintiffs

In Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court held that Title VII protects employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Meet the plaintiffs whose federal cases led to this landmark decision.


Aimee Stephens began working as a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home in 2008. In 2013, Ms. Stephens was fired from her job after informing her employer, Thomas Rost, that she was transitioning. She explained in a letter to Mr. Rost that she intended to wear appropriate women's business attire going forward—in accordance with the company's dress code. Ms. Stephens subsequently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which brought suit against the funeral home for unlawful termination due to sex discrimination.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images


District Court: EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. (E.D. Mich. 2016)

The District Court found that there was direct evidence supporting Ms. Stephen's claim of employment discrimination on the basis of her sex. However, it still ruled in favor of the Funeral Home, finding the claim to be precluded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"): which prohibits enforcement of a law that substantially burdens an individual's religious expression unless it is the least restrictive way of furthering a compelling government interest.

Court of Appeals: EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. (6th Cir. 2018)

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's ruling and held that sex stereotyping based on a person's gender non-conformity is impermissible discrimination. It further held that discrimination based on an individual's transgender status is inextricably tied to their sex, and therefore impermissible under Title VII. The EEOC's unlawful termination claim was therefore granted summary judgment. The Court of Appeals held that the RFRA did not preclude this finding, as continuing to employ Ms. Stephens would not substantially burden Rost's religious exercise, and enforcing Title VII was the least restrictive means of furthering the EEOC's compelling interest in eradicating sex discrimination. 

The Supreme Court then reviewed this interpretation of Title VII in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020). 


Supreme Court Ruling:

The judgment of the Sixth Circuit was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Discrimination against transgender people was found to be a violation of Title VII, as a person's sex is the "But For" cause of such discrimination. The Court illustrated this by comparing two hypothetical employees who identify as women. If the only difference between them is that one was identified as male at birth and the other as female, then to fire the transgender employee would necessarily be discrimination on the basis of sex.


Of the three employees represented in Bostock, Ms. Stephens was the only transgender plaintiff. She passed away due to complications related to kidney failure one month before her victory in the Supreme Court was decided. However, her efforts to protect transgender employees from discrimination were memorialized later that year when her name was added to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn.